The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
|Training, hours part of problem|
Friday, August 3, 2012
By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer
Franklin County Public Safety is struggling to retain enough emergency service volunteers to adequately man county rescue squads.
That was the message Daryl Hatcher, the county's director of public safety, gave the board of supervisors during the board's annual retreat Wednesday morning.
A shortage of volunteers means a slower response time to emergency calls, he said, a problem which could get worse as the number of calls keeps increasing.
Countywide, the call volume has increased 12 percent since 2009, and 59 percent of those calls occur when volunteers provide primary coverage. There were 5,635 calls in 2011, with Franklin County Rescue Squad in Rocky Mount handling 2,055 of those calls.
Franklin County Rescue's call count is also up because it responds to calls when other squads have no coverage, Hatcher said.
"With as few as two EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), some agencies are struggling to provide adequate coverage," he said.
The problem is exacerbated by more transports going to Roanoke for emergencies that Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital can't handle, he added.
Hatcher said the county averages 200 new volunteer applicants annually, but 160 of those leave within one year. One of the main reasons for leaving is all of the mandated training, which requires a lot of time many don't have, Hatcher said. Almost 200 hours of basic training is required for an EMT.
Nothing can be done about that, he said, but another problem is related to how the squads are managed and internal conflicts.
"We are working on the internal aspects ... to retain volunteers," Hatcher said.
Streamlining the process by having a formal and consistent application process may help, he said, working with volunteers more actively as soon as they apply.
Transforming the squads into a "professional leadership model" will help as well, he said. "The best lead agencies are the ones that keep their people. Leadership of agencies is vital."
A grant has been obtained to provide a "retention focused leadership program" over the next year, Hatcher said.
Although the goal is to reduce response times (to 8 minutes 90 percent of the time), that has only happened in a few squads, mainly those that have paid staff or when volunteers can respond from home rather than making a trip to the squad headquarters first, Hatcher said. Otherwise, many response times are up or have not significantly improved from last year.
Franklin County Rescue has the best overall response time at less than 7 minutes. Westlake, which received the second largest number of calls in 2011 (619), has the next lowest average response times at about 9 minutes, but that station is staffed by six paid personnel who rotate 24-hour shifts.
The county has only 20 paid fire and emergency medical staff and about 250 volunteers in both EMS and fire departments.
"It (responding quickly) gets rather difficult" when personnel may not be available, Hatcher said, meaning that another squad has to be called and that can lead to a response time of anywhere from 10 to 18 minutes.
One change that should help the response times, Hatcher said, is to implement a "zone response plan for volunteer agencies." That would mean squads with adequate manpower could cover another squad when no one is available, actually relocating to that station for a specific period of time. This eliminates the reaction time to get personnel to the station, he said.
"Until we start staffing the stations adequately, we can't realistically put a dent in that (long response times)," he said.
Another problem is "frequent fliers," or people who call without an appropriate reason, Hatcher said.
Blackwater District Supervisor Cline Brubaker said consequences should be in place for such calls, but none now exist.
Hatcher said the county does see some revenue from calls, as insurance companies and Medicare are billed for services, but only about 60 percent of those bills are paid because of the number of people who may not have insurance.